3D Printing Interdisciplinary Learning for Complex Problems

3D Printing Interdisciplinary Learning for Complex Problems

Jennifer Loy
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7018-9.ch005
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Since the initial introduction of 3D printing as a prototyping tool for pupils studying practical technology subjects, its use has rapidly expanded over the last few years as educators have started to explore its potential as a teaching tool in diverse subjects. Yet it is possible that its potential as an educational tool lies beyond the innovative subject-specific applications currently under development, in a more expansive role as a catalyst for interdisciplinary educational practices. This chapter considers the possibility that 3D printing provides a platform for interdisciplinary educational experiences, aligned to scholarship on the development of significant learning experiences grounded in practice and the empowering of learners through changing relationships in the classroom, for engagement with complex problems across traditional subject boundaries.
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3D printing, known industrially as additive manufacturing, is predicted to be a significant and disruptive technology for the twenty-first century because of its potential as a catalyst for far-reaching social, economic and environmental change (Anderson, 2013). This is due to its anticipated impact on the future of manufacturing and the democratisation of making, enabled by corresponding advances in digital communication technology. Within schools and universities, however, it is predominantly viewed only as a useful making tool. Based on examples of teaching strategies for current learning imperatives, this chapter highlights the potential of the technology to provide a platform for interdisciplinary education that engages with complex problems across traditional subject boundaries. This approach aligns to scholarship on the importance of authentic learning experiences, grounded by real world issues. According to Starko (2010, p.16) “an authentic problem (a) does not have predetermined answer, (b) is personally relevant to the investigator, and (c) can be explored through the methods of one or more disciplines.” This chapter aims to support the strategic use of 3D printing as an entry point to interdisciplinary collaboration and engaging with educational challenges emerging in the twenty-first century. The chapter will be relevant to educators in schools and universities across disciplines and also curriculum developers, assessors and policy makers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Bespoke: In this context refers to objects that are customized specific to a person or situation.

Fablabs: These are open access, makerspaces set up as a linked network around the world by Neil Gershenfeld, the current Director of the MIT Centre for Bits and Atoms.

Authentic Education: Used to describe learning activities that are based on projects that are meaningful to the participants.

Selective Laser Sintering: A laser-based method of melting and fusing material used in the industrial 3D printing of polymers.

Direct Laser Melting: Refers to the laser-based melting and fusing of metal powders in additive manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing: The industrial term for 3D printing encompassing a wide range of technologies that build objects from 3D computer models without the need for tooling.

Lifelong Learning: Refers to a current trend of education planning for ongoing, cumulative learning rather than for finite, discrete modules.

Relocalization: In this context refers to a policy of supporting distributed manufacturing rather than centralized manufacturing, cutting down on the environmental impact of transporting goods and supporting local economies.

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